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Using evidence-based practice to inform decision making

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By Margaret Adolphus


Evidence-based practice (EBP) is accepted in a number of professional areas, and is best defined as the use of research to inform practice and improve decision making.

The most widely accepted definition of EBP is based on Sackett's description of evidence-based medicine:

" ... the conscientious, explicit and judicious use of current best evidence in making decisions about the care of individual patients" (Sackett et al., 1996, quoted in Gu et al., 2004).


The concept of EBP first originated in the health-care sector over 30 years ago, and has been routinely used by health professionals ever since. Its use has subsequently spread to other disciplines, including physical therapy, education, management, librarianship and literacy development (Clyde, 2006).

The librarianship version first emerged in the late 1990s as evidence-based information practice (EBIP), which has been defined as:

" ... evidence-based practice with information as both its subject and object" (Booth and Bryce, 2005).

Clyde (2006) sees EBIP as improving practice and highlighting relevant service outcomes, using documented evidence from professional practice and research to solve professional problems and plan for the future.

Librarians as knowledge managers

With the knowledge revolution, librarians have seen several changes in their roles. One of these, although not evident in every sector, is a move towards them becoming "knowledge managers".

It's a role which sees the librarian not just reacting to enquiries, but rather embedding themselves in the engine of the organization and helping ask questions and anticipate information needs. As Palmer (2004) writes, it's about managing knowledge, explicit and tacit, rather than just information (documents and data).

Librarians in the British civil service are tending to move towards knowledge management, as are some specialist business librarians. And in the health and medical sectors, clinical librarians are starting to work with clinical teams, accompanying them on ward rounds, carrying out complex literature searches and, above all, acting as facilitators and catalysts for good, evidence-based practice.

A useful way of describing the work of clinical librarians and others who work with EBP is through case studies. The following example demonstrates how one National Health Service (NHS) Trust was able to improve its patient safety services and make cost savings by using research to inform strategy and practice.

Publisher's note

The author is grateful to Catherine Ebenezer for her help with this article.